Planet Javasummit

January 17, 2018

Worse Than FailureIn $BANK We Trust

During the few months after getting my BS and before starting my MS, I worked for a bank that held lots of securities - and gold - in trust for others. There was a massive vault with multiple layers of steel doors, iron door grates, security access cards, armed guards, and signature comparisons (live vs pre-registered). It was a bit unnerving to get in there, so deep below ground, but once in, it looked very much like the Fort Knox vault scene in Goldfinger.

Someone planning things on a whiteboard

At that point, PCs weren't yet available to the masses and I had very little exposure to mainframes. I had been hired as an assistant to one of their drones who had been assigned to find all of the paper-driven-changes that had gone awry and get their books up to date.

To this end, I spent about a month talking to everyone involved in taking a customer order to take or transfer ownership of something, and processing the ledger entries to reflect the transaction. From this, I drew a simple flow chart, listing each task, the person(s) responsible, and the possible decision tree at each point.

Then I went back to each person and asked them to list all the things that could and did go wrong with transaction processing at their junction in the flow.

What had been essentially straight-line processing with a few small decision branches, turned out to be enough to fill a 30 foot long by 8 foot high wall of undesirable branches. This became absolutely unmanageable on physical paper, and I didn't know of any charting programs on the mainframe at that time, so I wrote the whole thing up with an index card at each junction. The "good" path was in green marker, and everything else was yellow (one level of "wrong") or red (wtf-level of "wrong").

By the time it was fully documented, the wall-o-index-cards had become a running joke. I invited the people (who had given me all of the information) in to view their problems in the larger context, and verify that the problems were accurately documented.

Then management was called in to view the true scope of their problems. The reason that the books were so snafu'd was that there were simply too many manual tasks that were being done incorrectly, cascading to deeply nested levels of errors.

Once we knew where to look, it became much easier to track transactions backward through the diagram to the last known valid junction and push them forward until they were both correct and current. A rather large contingent of analysts were then put onto this task to fix all of the transactions for all of the customers of the bank.

It was about the time that I was to leave and go back to school that they were talking about taking the sub-processes off the mainframe and distributing detailed step-by-step instructions for people to follow manually at each junction to ensure that the work flow proceeded properly. Obviously, more manual steps would reduce the chance for errors to creep in!

A few years later when I got my MS, I ran into one of the people that was still working there and discovered that the more-manual procedures had not only not cured the problem, but that entirely new avenues of problems had cropped up as a result.

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Tim Bray SotD: Pärt’s Cantus

Since I’ve been rocking the house the last couple of days, let’s do serenity instead. Specifically, Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, for string orchestra and bell, by Arvo Pärt, one of my musical heroes. Here’s how good this is: It just about got me killed, the first time I heard it. Which was on a rented car’s radio in England, heading up the M3, where they drive fast; I was jet-lagged and I caught myself closing my eyes at 85mph to savor the fading tones of the church bell.

Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt is an Estonian, elderly but still active. He Believes In God, big-time, and knowing this may help you enjoy his music. I find that Not Believing In God Or The Easter Bunny doesn’t get in the way of enjoying it. But it’s mostly all-serenity-all-the-time; except when it isn’t, and Pärt gets good musical mileage out of the shock value on those occasions. But the Cantus, Pärt’s biggest hit, stays in Calmsville. On first listen, it’s an endless sweet-sounding descending line that gets lower and loader for six-ish minutes, with a churchy-sounding bell floating its chimes softly over the descent.

But listen closely. There’s plenty happening under the surface of that phat descending line. A visit to this YouTube is recommended for those who can read an orchestral but you can hear it if you listen; Pärt is going to a lot of work to paint a simple picture. I’m pretty sure that listening to this is a good investment for six minutes of your life.

There’s a lot of musical mileage in that descending line; Bach used it all the time, and so did a guy I bet you haven’t heard of named Jake Holmes, who wrote a song called Dazed and Confused, which I bet you have.

The Cantus is included in a beautiful all-Pärt record called Tabula Rasa which I heartily recommend and dedicated a whole blog piece to..

Pärt is an interesting guy; there have been any number of documentaries, all good, and some intermittently available on YouTube. There’s also an interview by Bjork that’s worth hearing - starts a couple minutes into the clip. In Estonia, there’s an Arvo Pärt Centre, with concert listings and an interesting Twitter feed.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

iTunes, Amazon, Spotiry. As for live video, it seems like every orchestra in the world has posted one to YouTube. As a service to you, dear reader, I watched lots of them, and these stuck in my memory: Järvi with the Orchestre de Paris (watch the conductor’s arms shaking as he tries to pull more and more out of the violin section) and the Baltic Sea Orchestra, whose string players are almost all women.

January 16, 2018

Tim Bray SotD: Clampdown

Yesterday, I used the phrase “best Rock song ever recorded”. Well, why not two days in a row? Because another fine candidate is Clampdown from the Clash’s wonderful London Calling album. That record was a highlight of 1980 and Clampdown was a highlight of the record.

London Calling

I think a listen is in order now in 2018 if only for the lyric In these days of evil presidentes… need I say more? Great tune, strong words, hot playing, fine production.

People hear that loud raw sound and might foolishly think that it’s easy to play. Clampdown, like a lot of their songs, is fast, and keeping that kind of thing together at that speed, particular with the lousy on-stage sound most rock bands have had to deal with, is a big deal. Credit is due to the thunderous precise drumming of Topper Headon; in fact, a whole lot of credit is due to Topper for the Clash in general, he’s one of the underappreciated greats. Listen to the rhythm on Clampdown.

I have a history with the Clash; caught their second North American tour, wrote about them and punk in general for an audiophile magazine (reproduced here), and was terribly hard-hit when Joe Strummer died suddenly; wow, that’s over fifteen years ago.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, live video: best visuals, best outfits, best playing.

Worse Than FailureWhy Medical Insurance Is So Expensive

VA One AE Preliminary Project Timeline 2001-02

At the end of 2016, Ian S. accepted a contract position at a large medical conglomerate. He was joining a team of 6 developers on a project to automate what was normally a 10,000-hour manual process of cross-checking spreadsheets and data files. The end result would be a Django server offering a RESTful API and MySQL backend.

"You probably won't be doing anything much for the first week, maybe even the first month," Ian's interviewer informed him.

Ian ignored the red flag and accepted the offer. He needed the experience, and the job seemed reasonable enough. Besides, there were only 2 layers of management to deal with: his boss Daniel, who led the team, and his boss' boss Jim.

The office was in an lavish downtown location. The first thing Ian learned was that nobody had assigned desks. Each day, everyone had to clean out their desks and return their computers and peripherals to lockers. Because team members needed to work closely together, everyone claimed the same desk every day anyway. This policy only resulted in frustration and lost time.

As if that weren't bad enough, the computers were also heavily locked down. Ian had to go through the company's own "app store" to install anything. This was followed by an approval process that could take a few days based on how often Jim went through his pending approvals. The one exception was VMWare Workstation. Because this app cost money, it involved a 2-week approval process. In the middle of December, everyone was off on holiday, making it impossible for Ian's team to get approvals or talk to anyone helpful. Thus Ian's only contributions that month were a couple of Visio diagrams and a Django "hello world" that Daniel had requested. (It wasn't as if Daniel could check his work, though. He didn't know anything about Python, Django, REST, MySQL, MVC, or any other technology relevant to the project.)

The company provided Ian a copy of Agile for Dummies, which seemed ironic in retrospect, as the team was forced to the spend entire first week of January breaking the next 6 months into 2-week sprints. They weren't allowed to leave sprints empty, and had to allocate 36-40 hours each week. They could only make stories for features, so no time was penciled in for bug fixes or paying off technical debt. These stories were then chopped into meaningless pieces ("Part 1", "Part 2", etc.) so they'd fit into their arbitrary timelines.

"This is why medical insurance is so expensive", Daniel remarked at one point, either trying to lighten the mood or stave off his pending insanity.

Later in January, Ian arrived one morning to find the rest of his team standing around confused. Their project was now dead at the hands of a VP who'd had it in for Jim. The company had a tenure process, so the VP couldn't just fire Jim, but he could make his life miserable. He reassigned all of Jim's teams that he didn't outright terminate, exiled Jim to New Jersey, and gave him nothing to do but approve timesheets. Meanwhile, Daniel was told not to bother coming in again.

"Don't worry," the powers-that-be said. "We don't usually terminate people here."

Ian's gapingly empty schedule was filled with a completely different task: "shadowing" someone in another state by screen-sharing and watching them work. The main problem with this arrangement was that Ian's disciple was a systems analyst, not a programmer.

Come February, Ian's new team was also terminated.

"We don't have a culture of layoffs," the powers-that-be assured him.

They were still intent on shoving Ian into a systems analyst position despite his requisite lack of experience. It was at that point that he gave up and moved on. He later heard that within a few months, the entire division had been fired.

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etbeMore About the Thinkpad X301

Last month I blogged about the Thinkpad X301 I got from a rubbish pile [1]. One thing I didn’t realise when writing that post is that the X301 doesn’t have the keyboard light that the T420 has. With the T420 I could press the bottom left (FN) and top right (PgUp from memory) keys on the keyboard to turn a light on the keyboard. This is really good for typing at night. While I can touch type the small keyboard on a laptop makes it a little difficult so the light is a feature I found useful. I wrote my review of the X301 before having to use it at night.

Another problem I noticed is that it crashes after running Memtest86+ for between 30 minutes and 4 hours. Memtest86+ doesn’t report any memory errors, the system just entirely locks up. I have 2 DIMMs for it (2G and 4G), I tried installing them in both orders, and I tried with each of them in the first slot (the system won’t boot if only the second slot is filled). Nothing changed. Now it is possible that this is something that might not happen in real use. For example it might only happen due to heat when the system is under sustained load which isn’t something I planned for that laptop. I would discard a desktop system that had such a problem because I get lots of free desktop PCs, but I’m prepared to live with a laptop that has such a problem to avoid paying for another laptop.

Last night the laptop battery suddenly stopped working entirely. I had it unplugged for about 5 minutes when it abruptly went off (no flashing light to warn that the battery was low or anything). Now when I plug it in the battery light flashes orange. A quick Google search indicates that this might mean that a fuse inside the battery pack has blown or that there might be a problem with the system board. Replacing the system board is much more than the laptop is worth and even replacing the battery will probably cost more than it’s worth. Previously bought a Thinkpad T420 at auction because it didn’t cost much more than getting a new battery and PSU for a T61 [2] and I expect I can find a similar deal if I poll the auction sites for a while.

Using an X series Thinkpad has been a good experience and I’ll definitely consider an X series for my next laptop. My previous history of laptops involved going from ones with a small screen that were heavy and clunky (what was available with 90’s technology and cost less than a car) to ones that had a large screen and were less clunky but still heavy. I hadn’t tried small and light with technology from the last decade, it’s something I could really get used to!

By today’s standards the X301 is deficient in a number of ways. It has 64G of storage (the same as my most recent phones) which isn’t much for software development, 6G of RAM which isn’t too bad but is small by today’s standards (16G is a common factory option nowadays), a 1440*900 screen which looks bad in any comparison (less than the last 3 phones I’ve owned), and a slow CPU. No two of these limits would be enough to make me consider replacing that laptop. Even with the possibility of crashing under load it was still a useful system. But the lack of a usable battery in combination with all the other issues makes the entire system unsuitable for my needs. I would be very happy to use a fast laptop with a high resolution screen even without a battery, but not with this list of issues.

Next week I’m going to a conference and there’s no possibility of buying a new laptop before then. So for a week when I need to use a laptop a lot I will have a sub-standard laptop.

It really sucks to have a laptop develop a problem that makes me want to replace it so soon after I got it.

Tim Bray Google Memory Loss

I think Google has stopped indexing the older parts of the Web. I think I can prove it. Google’s competition is doing better.

Evidence

This isn’t just a proof, it’s a rock-n-roll proof. Back in 2006, I published a review of Lou Reed’s Rock n Roll Animal album. Back in 2008, Brent Simmons published That New Sound, about The Clash’s London Calling. Here’s a challenge: Can you find either of these with Google? Even if you read them first and can carefully conjure up exact-match strings, and then use the “site:” prefix? I can’t.

[Update: Now you can, because this piece went a little viral. But you sure couldn’t earlier in the day.]

Why?

Obviously, indexing the whole Web is crushingly expensive, and getting more so every day. Things like 10+-year-old music reviews that are never updated, no longer accept comments, are lightly if at all linked-to outside their own site, and rarely if ever visited… well, let’s face it, Google’s not going to be selling many ads next to search results that turn them up. So from a business point of view, it’s hard to make a case for Google indexing everything, no matter how old and how obscure.

My pain here is purely personal; I freely confess that I’d been using Google’s global infrastructure as my own personal search index for my own personal publications. But the pain is real; I frequently mine my own history to re-use, for example in constructing the current #SongOfTheDay series.

Competition

Bing can find it! DuckDuckGo can too! Both of them can find Brent’s London Calling piece, too.

What Google cares about

It cares about giving you great answers to the questions that matter to you right now. And I find that if I type in a question, even something complicated and obscure, Google often surprises me with a timely, accurate answer. They’ve never claimed to index every word on every page.

My mental model of the Web is as a permanent, long-lived store of humanity’s intellectual heritage. For this to be useful, it needs to be indexed, just like a library. Google apparently doesn’t share that view.

What I’m going to do

When I have a question I want answered, I’ll probably still go to Google. When I want to find a specific Web page and I think I know some of the words it contains, I won’t any more, I’ll pick Bing or DuckDuckGo.

January 15, 2018

Tim Bray SotD: Day Tripper

If someone asked me what the greatest rock&roll song of all time was, I wouldn’t be able to pick. But if they kept asking, and you got a serious conversation going, Day Tripper would be in that conversation.

Yes, I acknowledge that this is two loud-and-fast-BritPop Songs of the Day in a row.

It’s worth noting that Day Tripper is musically weird; to start with, there’s a slow backbeat behind the fast rhythms. The chords veer from major into minor and back. And if you talk to people who really care about this kind of stuff you’re apt to hear a lot of “Wow… that tambourine!” (Ringo BTW).

The historical record says this is mostly John-with-some-help-from-Paul, and that there are druggie subtexts. It never made it to the top of the charts, but the song on the other side of the same single, We Can Work It Out, did. Go figure. George Martin’s production stands up well; play it loud, but leave yourself room to dance.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, live video - how about Paul McCartney Live in Tokyo in 2013.

Worse Than FailureRepresentative Line: Tern Back

In the process of resolving a ticket, Pedro C found this representative line, which has nothing to do with the bug he was fixing, but was just something he couldn’t leave un-fixed:

$categories = (isset($categoryMap[$product['department']]) ?
                            (isset($categoryMap[$product['department']][$product['classification']])
                                        ?
                                    $categoryMap[$product['department']][$product['classification']]
                                        : NULL) : NULL);

Yes, the venerable ternary expression, used once again to obfuscate and confuse.

It took Pedro a few readings before he even understood what it did, and then it took him a few more readings to wonder about why anyone would solve the problem this way. Then, he fixed it.

$department = $product['department'];
$classification = $product['classification'];
$categories = NULL;
//ED: isset never triggers as error with an undefined expression, but simply returns false, because PHP
if( isset($categoryMap[$department][$classification]) ) { 
    $categories = $categoryMap[$department][$classification];
}

He submitted the change for code-review, but it was kicked back. You see, Pedro had fixed the bug, which had a ticket associated with it. There were to be no code changes without a ticket from a business user, and since this change wasn’t strictly related to the bug, he couldn’t submit this change.

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XKCDMemorable Quotes

January 12, 2018

Worse Than FailureError'd: Hamilton, Hamilton, Hamilton, Hamilton

"Good news! I can get my order shipped anywhere I want...So long as the city is named Hamilton," Daniel wrote.

 

"I might have forgotten my username, but at least I didn't forget to change the email template code in Production," writes Paul T.

 

Jamie M. wrote, "Using Lee Hecht Harrison's job search functionality is very meta."

 

"When I decided to go to Cineworld, wasn't sure what I wanted to watch," writes Andy P., "The trailer for 'System Restore' looks good, but it's got a bad rating on Rotten Tomatoes."

 

Mattias writes, "I get the feeling that Visual Studio really doesn't like this error."

 

"While traveling in Philadelphia's airport, I was pleased to see Macs competing in the dumb error category too," Ken L. writes.

 

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XKCDDying Gift

January 10, 2018

XKCDThe Food Size Cycle

January 08, 2018

XKCD2016 Election Map

December 20, 2017

etbeDesigning Shared Cars

Almost 10 years ago I blogged about car sharing companies in Melbourne [1]. Since that time the use of such services appears to have slowly grown (judging by the slow growth in the reserved parking spots for such cars). This isn’t the sudden growth that public transport advocates and the operators of those companies hoped for, but it is still positive. I have just watched the documentary The Human Scale [2] (which I highly recommend) about the way that cities are designed for cars rather than for people.

I think that it is necessary to make cities more suited to the needs of people and that car share and car hire companies are an important part of converting from a car based city to a human based city. As this sort of change happens the share cars will be an increasing portion of the new car sales and car companies will have to design cars to better suit shared use.

Personalising Cars

Luxury car brands like Mercedes support storing the preferred seat position for each driver, once the basic step of maintaining separate driver profiles is done it’s an easy second step to have them accessed over the Internet and also store settings like preferred radio stations, Bluetooth connection profiles, etc. For a car share company it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to extrapolate settings based on previous use, EG knowing that I’m tall and using the default settings for a tall person every time I get in a shared car that I haven’t driven before. Having Bluetooth connections follow the user would mean having one slave address per customer instead of the current practice of one per car, the addressing is 48bit so this shouldn’t be a problem.

Most people accumulate many items in their car, some they don’t need, but many are needed. Some of the things in my car are change for parking meters, sunscreen, tools, and tissues. Car share companies have deals with councils for reserved parking spaces so it wouldn’t be difficult for them to have a deal for paying for parking and billing the driver thus removing the need for change (and the risk of a car window being smashed by some desperate person who wants to steal a few dollars). Sunscreen is a common enough item in Australia that a car share company might just provide it as a perk of using a shared car.

Most people have items like tools, a water bottle, and spare clothes that can’t be shared which tend to end up distributed in various storage locations. The solution to this might be to have a fixed size storage area, maybe based on some common storage item like a milk crate. Then everyone who is a frequent user of shared cars could buy a container designed to fit that space which is divided in a similar manner to a Bento box to contain whatever they need to carry.

There is a lot of research into having computers observing the operation of a car and warning the driver or even automatically applying the brakes to avoid a crash. For shared cars this is more important as drivers won’t necessarily have a feel for the car and can’t be expected to drive as well.

Car Sizes

Generally cars are designed to have 2 people (sports car, Smart car, van/ute/light-truck), 4/5 people (most cars), or 6-8 people (people movers). These configurations are based on what most people are able to use all the time. Most car travel involves only one adult. Most journeys appear to have no passengers or only children being driven around by a single adult.

Cars are designed for what people can drive all the time rather than what would best suit their needs most of the time. Almost no-one is going to buy a personal car that can only take one person even though most people who drive will be on their own for most journeys. Most people will occasionally need to take passengers and that occasional need will outweigh the additional costs in buying and fueling a car with the extra passenger space.

I expect that when car share companies get a larger market they will have several vehicles in the same location to allow users to choose which to drive. If such a choice is available then I think that many people would sometimes choose a vehicle with no space for passengers but extra space for cargo and/or being smaller and easier to park.

For the common case of one adult driving small children the front passenger seat can’t be used due to the risk of airbags killing small kids. A car with storage space instead of a front passenger seat would be more useful in that situation.

Some of these possible design choices can also be after-market modifications. I know someone who removed the rear row of seats from a people-mover to store the equipment for his work. That gave a vehicle with plenty of space for his equipment while also having a row of seats for his kids. If he was using shared vehicles he might have chosen to use either a vehicle well suited to cargo (a small van or ute) or a regular car for transporting his kids. It could be that there’s an untapped demand for ~4 people in a car along with cargo so a car share company could remove the back row of seats from people movers to cater to that.

December 14, 2017

etbeHuawei Mate9

Warranty Etc

I recently got a Huawei Mate 9 phone. My previous phone was a Nexus 6P that died shortly before it’s one year warranty ran out. As there have apparently been many Nexus 6P phones dying there are no stocks of replacements so Kogan (the company I bought the phone from) offered me a choice of 4 phones in the same price range as a replacement.

Previously I had chosen to avoid the extended warranty offerings based on the idea that after more than a year the phone won’t be worth much and therefore getting it replaced under warranty isn’t as much of a benefit. But now that it seems that getting a phone replaced with a newer and more powerful model is a likely outcome it seems that there are benefits in a longer warranty. I chose not to pay for an “extended warranty” on my Nexus 6P because getting a new Nexus 6P now isn’t such a desirable outcome, but when getting a new Mate 9 is a possibility it seems more of a benefit to get the “extended warranty”. OTOH Kogan wasn’t offering more than 2 years of “warranty” recently when buying a phone for a relative, so maybe they lost a lot of money on replacements for the Nexus 6P.

Comparison

I chose the Mate 9 primarily because it has a large screen. It’s 5.9″ display is only slightly larger than the 5.7″ displays in the Nexus 6P and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (my previous phone). But it is large enough to force me to change my phone use habits.

I previously wrote about matching phone size to the user’s hand size [1]. When writing that I had the theory that a Note 2 might be too large for me to use one-handed. But when I owned those phones I found that the Note 2 and Note 3 were both quite usable in one-handed mode. But the Mate 9 is just too big for that. To deal with this I now use the top corners of my phone screen for icons that I don’t tend to use one-handed, such as Facebook. I chose this phone knowing that this would be an issue because I’ve been spending more time reading web pages on my phone and I need to see more text on screen.

Adjusting my phone usage to the unusually large screen hasn’t been a problem for me. But I expect that many people will find this phone too large. I don’t think there are many people who buy jeans to fit a large phone in the pocket [2].

A widely touted feature of the Mate 9 is the Leica lens which apparently gives it really good quality photos. I haven’t noticed problems with my photos on my previous two phones and it seems likely that phone cameras have in most situations exceeded my requirements for photos (I’m not a very demanding user). One thing that I miss is the slow-motion video that the Nexus 6P supports. I guess I’ll have to make sure my wife is around when I need to make slow motion video.

My wife’s Nexus 6P is well out of warranty. Her phone was the original Nexus 6P I had. When her previous phone died I had a problem with my phone that needed a factory reset. It’s easier to duplicate the configuration to a new phone than restore it after a factory reset (as an aside I believe Apple does this better) I copied my configuration to the new phone and then wiped it for my wife to use.

One noteworthy but mostly insignificant feature of the Mate 9 is that it comes with a phone case. The case is hard plastic and cracked when I unsuccessfully tried to remove it, so it seems to effectively be a single-use item. But it is good to have that in the box so that you don’t have to use the phone without a case on the first day, this is something almost every other phone manufacturer misses. But there is the option of ordering a case at the same time as a phone and the case isn’t very good.

I regard my Mate 9 as fairly unattractive. Maybe if I had a choice of color I would have been happier, but it still wouldn’t have looked like EVE from Wall-E (unlike the Nexus 6P).

The Mate 9 has a resolution of 1920*1080, while the Nexus 6P (and many other modern phones) has a resolution of 2560*1440 I don’t think that’s a big deal, the pixels are small enough that I can’t see them. I don’t really need my phone to have the same resolution as the 27″ monitor on my desktop.

The Mate 9 has 4G of RAM and apps seem significantly less likely to be killed than on the Nexus 6P with 3G. I can now switch between memory hungry apps like Pokemon Go and Facebook without having one of them killed by the OS.

Security

The OS support from Huawei isn’t nearly as good as a Nexus device. Mine is running Android 7.0 and has a security patch level of the 5th of June 2017. My wife’s Nexus 6P today got an update from Android 8.0 to 8.1 which I believe has the fixes for KRACK and Blueborne among others.

Kogan is currently selling the Pixel XL with 128G of storage for $829, if I was buying a phone now that’s probably what I would buy. It’s a pity that none of the companies that have manufactured Nexus devices seem to have learned how to support devices sold under their own name as well.

Conclusion

Generally this is a decent phone. As a replacement for a failed Nexus 6P it’s pretty good. But at this time I tend to recommend not buying it as the first generation of Pixel phones are now cheap enough to compete. If the Pixel XL is out of your price range then instead of saving $130 for a less secure phone it would be better to save $400 and choose one of the many cheaper phones on offer.

Remember when Linux users used to mock Windows for poor security? Now it seems that most Android devices are facing the security problems that Windows used to face and the iPhone and Pixel are going to take the role of the secure phone.

December 13, 2017

etbeThinkpad X301

Another Broken Thinkpad

A few months ago I wrote a post about “Observing Reliability” [1] regarding my Thinkpad T420. I noted that the T420 had been running for almost 4 years which was a good run, and therefore the failed DVD drive didn’t convince me that Thinkpads have quality problems.

Since that time the plastic on the lid by the left hinge broke, every time I open or close the lid it breaks a bit more. That prevents use of that Thinkpad by anyone who wants to use it as a serious laptop as it can’t be expected to last long if opened and closed several times a day. It probably wouldn’t be difficult to fix the lid but for an old laptop it doesn’t seem worth the effort and/or money. So my plan now is to give the Thinkpad to someone who wants a compact desktop system with a built-in UPS, a friend in Vietnam can probably find a worthy recipient.

My Thinkpad History

I bought the Thinkpad T420 in October 2013 [2], it lasted about 4 years and 2 months. It cost $306.

I bought my Thinkpad T61 in February 2010 [3], it lasted about 3 years and 8 months. It cost $796 [4].

Prior to the T61 I had a T41p that I received well before 2006 (maybe 2003) [5]. So the T41p lasted close to 7 years, as it was originally bought for me by a multinational corporation I’m sure it cost a lot of money. By the time I bought the T61 it had display problems, cooling problems, and compatibility issues with recent Linux distributions.

Before the T41p I had 3 Thinkpads in 5 years, all of which had the type of price that only made sense in the dot-com boom.

In terms of absolute lifetime the Thinkpad T420 did ok. In terms of cost per year it did very well, only $6 per month. The T61 was $18 per month, and while the T41p lasted a long time it probably cost over $2000 giving it a cost of over $20 per month. $20 per month is still good value, I definitely get a lot more than $20 per month benefit from having a laptop. While it’s nice that my most recent laptop could be said to have saved me $12 per month over the previous one, it doesn’t make much difference to my financial situation.

Thinkpad X301

My latest Thinkpad is an X301 that I found on an e-waste pile, it had a broken DVD drive which is presumably the reason why someone decided to throw it out. It has the same power connector as my previous 2 Thinkpads which was convenient as I didn’t find a PSU with it. I saw a review of the T301 dated 2008 which probably means it was new in 2009, but it has no obvious signs of wear so probably hasn’t been used much.

My X301 has a 1440*900 screen which isn’t as good as the T420 resolution of 1600*900. But a lower resolution is an expected trade-off for a smaller laptop. The T310 comes with a 64G SSD which is a significant limitation.

I previously wrote about a “cloud lifestyle” [6]. I hadn’t implemented all the ideas from that post due to distractions and a lack of time. But now that I’ll have a primary PC with only 64G of storage I have more incentive to do that. The 100G disk in the T61 was a minor limitation at the time I got it but since then everything got bigger and 64G is going to be a big problem and the fact that it’s an unusual 1.8″ form factor means that I can’t cheaply upgrade it or use the SSD that I’ve used in the Thinkpad T420.

My current Desktop PC is an i7-2600 system which builds the SE Linux policy packages for Debian (the thing I compile most frequently) in about 2 minutes with about 5 minutes of CPU time used. the same compilation on the X301 takes just over 6.5 minutes with almost 9 minutes of CPU time used. The i5 CPU in the Thinkpad T420 was somewhere between those times. While I can wait 6.5 minutes for a compile to test something it is an annoyance. So I’ll probably use one of the i7 or i5 class servers I run to do builds.

On the T420 I had chroot environments running with systemd-nspawn for the last few releases of Debian in both AMD64 and i386 variants. Now I have to use a server somewhere for that.

I stored many TV shows, TED talks, and movies on the T420. Probably part of the problem with the hinge was due to adjusting the screen while watching TV in bed. Now I have a phone with 64G of storage and a tablet with 32G so I will use those for playing videos.

I’ve started to increase my use of Git recently. There’s many programs I maintain that I really should have had version control for years ago. Now the desire to develop them on multiple systems gives me an incentive to do this.

Comparing to a Phone

My latest phone is a Huawei Mate 9 (I’ll blog about that shortly) which has a 1920*1080 screen and 64G of storage. So it has a higher resolution screen than my latest Thinkpad as well as equal storage. My phone has 4G of RAM while the Thinkpad only has 2G (I plan to add RAM soon).

I don’t know of a good way of comparing CPU power of phones and laptops (please comment if you have suggestions about this). The issues of GPU integration etc will make this complex. But I’m sure that the octa-core CPU in my phone doesn’t look too bad when compared to the dual-core CPU in my Thinkpad.

Conclusion

The X301 isn’t a laptop I would choose to buy today. Since using it I’ve appreciated how small and light it is, so I would definitely consider a recent X series. But being free the value for money is NaN which makes it more attractive. Maybe I won’t try to get 4+ years of use out of it, in 2 years time I might buy something newer and better in a similar form factor.

I can just occasionally poll an auction site and bid if there’s anything particularly tempting. If I was going to buy a new laptop now before the old one becomes totally unusable I would be rushed and wouldn’t get the best deal (particularly given that it’s almost Christmas).

Who knows, I might even find something newer and better on an e-waste pile. It’s amazing the type of stuff that gets thrown out nowadays.

November 18, 2014

Kelvin Lawrence - personal25 Years of the World Wide Web

I have been so busy that I am a few days late putting this post together but hopefully better late than never!

A few days ago, hard though it is to believe, the Worldwide Web, that so many of us take for granted these days, celebrated it's 25th anniversary. Created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee , for many of us, "Web" has become as essential in our daily lives as electricity or natural gas. Built from its earliest days upon the notion of open standards the Web has become the information backbone of our current society. My first exposure, that I can remember, to the concept of the Web was in the early 1990s when I was part of the OS/2 team at IBM and we put one of the earliest browsers, Web Explorer, into the operating system and shipped it. Back then, an HTML web page was little more than text, images, animated GIFs and most importantly of all hyperlinks. I was also involved with the team that did some of the early ports of Netscape Navigator to OS/2 and I still recall being blown away by some of what I saw that team doing upon some of my many visits to Netscape in California what seems like a lifetime ago now!

 From those modest but still highly effective beginnings, the Web and most importantly perhaps, the Web browser, has evolved into the complete business and entertainment platform that it is today.


The Web, and open standards, have been part of my personal and work life ever since. I am honored to have been a small part of the evolution of the web myself. I have worked on a number of different projects with great people from all over the World under the auspices of the W3C for longer than I care to remember! I have done a lot of fun things in my career, but one of the highlights was definitely working with so many talented people on the original Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) specification which is now supported by most of the major browsers and of course you can find my library of SVGsamples here on my site.

It is also so fitting that the latest evolution of Web technology, the finished HTML 5 specification was announced to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Web.

I could write so much more about what the Web has meant to me but most of all I think my fondest memory will always be all of the great friends I have met and the large number of very talented people that I have had the good fortune to work with through our joint passion to make the Web a better and even more open, place.

Happy (slightly belated) Birthday Worldwide Web and here's to the next 25!

November 13, 2014

Kelvin Lawrence - personalAsian Tiger Mosquitoes

The weather has been unusually cold for the time of year the last day or so. I was actually hoping that if we get a hard freeze it will kill off for now the Asian Tiger mosquitoes that we have been overrun with this year. However I have my doubts as apparently, unlike other mosquitoes, their eggs, which they lay in vegetation and standing water, can survive a harsh winter. They apparently got into the USA in a shipment of waterlogged tires (tyres for my UK friends) some time ago and they are now spreading more broadly. They are covered in black and white stripes and look quite different than the regular "brown" colored mosquitoes we are used to seeing here. They are also a lot more aggressive. They bite all day long (not just at dusk) and even bite animals but definitely prefer humans. It has got so bad that we have had to pay to have our yard sprayed regularly almost all year so that we even have a chance to sit outside and enjoy our yard. These nasty little guys also transmit the chikungunya virus for which I currently believe there is no vaccine. It's not usually fatal but does have some nasty symptoms if you are unlucky enough to catch it. Here's a link to a WebMD write up on these little nasties.

November 12, 2014

Kelvin Lawrence - personalPink Floyd's Endless River - The End of an Era

I just purchased the new Pink Floyd CD from Amazon which includes a free digital download as well. I have been listening to it while I work today. Given the way the album was put together (using material the late Richard Wright recorded almost 20 years ago during the making of The Division Bell) much of the music is immediately familiar. I definitely also hear flashbacks to Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon and many other albums as well. It's mostly instrumental and there is a lot of it - four sides if you buy the vinyl version!! A lot of the music has an almost eerie tone to it - definitely a good one for the headphones with the lights off. It's a really good listen but left me feeling sad in a way, in a good way I guess, as much of their music has been the backdrop to the last 40 years or so of my life and this is definitely the end of a musical era as supposedly this is the last album the band plan to release. It has a bit of everything for Pink Floyd fans, especially those who like some of the "more recent" albums. Don't expect a bunch of rocking songs that you will be humming along to all day but as a complete work, listened to end to end, I found it very moving. Very much not your modern day pop tune and thank goodness for that!

October 26, 2014

Kelvin Lawrence - personalSeven years post cancer surgery

Today marks another big milestone for me. It has now been seven years since my cancer surgery. As always, I am grateful for all of my family, friends and doctors and every minute that I get to spend with them.

June 03, 2009

Software Summit June 3, 2009: The Finale of Colorado Software Summit

To Our Friends and Supporters,

In these challenging economic times, business has slowed, many companies have had to resort to layoffs and/or closures, and everyone has been tightening their belts. Unfortunately, Colorado Software Summit has not been immune to this downturn. As have so many companies and individuals, we too have experienced a severe decline in our business, and as a result we are not able to continue producing this annual conference.

This year would have been our 18th conference, and we had planned to continue through our 20th in 2011, but instead we must end it now.

Producing this conference has been a wonderful experience for us, truly a labor of love, and we have been extremely privileged to have been able to do well by doing good.  We are very proud of the many people whose careers flourished through what they learned here, of the extensive community we built via the conference, and of the several businesses that were begun through friendships made here. We treasure the friends we made, and we consider them to be part of our extended family. Just as in any family, we celebrated with them through joyous life events and grieved with them through tragic ones.

This is a sad time for us, of course, but not overwhelmingly so. It's sort of the feeling you have when your son leaves for college, or your daughter gets married. You knew it was coming someday, but it is here much sooner than you imagined, and the sadness is sweetened with the joy you had in all that has come before.

We have been privileged to have created a thriving community of friends who met for the first time at the conference, and we want that community to continue. We hope that all of you will stay in touch with us and with each other, and that the Colorado Software Summit community will continue as a source of wisdom and friendship to all of you. If you have ever attended one of our conference, we hope you will consider joining the Colorado Software Summit LinkedIn group as one means to keep in touch.

With our very best wishes for your future, and with unbounded gratitude for your support,

- Wayne and Peggy Kovsky -

All presentations from Colorado Software Summit 2008 have been posted.

May 18, 2009

Software Summit May 17, 2009: Additions to Preliminary Agenda for Colorado Software Summit 2009

We have posted additions to the preliminary agenda for Colorado Software Summit 2009, in two formats:

We will continue to post additions to this agenda during the coming weeks. Please check back here from time to time for additions and/or changes to the agenda, or subscribe to our RSS feed to receive notifications of updates automatically.

Presentations from the 2008 Conference

We have posted presentations for these speakers from Colorado Software Summit 2008:

Presentations from Colorado Software Summit 2008 will be posted periodically throughout the year.

May 03, 2009

Software Summit May 3, 2009: Additions to Preliminary Agenda for Colorado Software Summit 2009

We have posted additions to the preliminary agenda for Colorado Software Summit 2009, in two formats:

We will continue to post additions to this agenda during the coming weeks. Please check back here from time to time for additions and/or changes to the agenda, or subscribe to our RSS feed to receive notifications of updates automatically.

Presentations from the 2008 Conference

We have posted presentations for these speakers from Colorado Software Summit 2008:

Presentations from Colorado Software Summit 2008 will be posted periodically throughout the year.

April 26, 2009

Software Summit April 25, 2009: Preliminary Agenda for Colorado Software Summit 2009

We have posted the preliminary agenda for Colorado Software Summit 2009, in two formats:

We will continue to post additions to this agenda during the coming weeks. Please check back here from time to time for additions and/or changes to the agenda, or subscribe to our RSS feed to receive notifications of updates automatically.

Presentations from the 2008 Conference

We have posted presentations for these speakers from Colorado Software Summit 2008:

Presentations from Colorado Software Summit 2008 will be posted periodically throughout the year.